Anxiety: The Attack No One Sees Coming And 5 Ways You Can Help

I never thought it would happen to me.

To David Horning – the dude who preaches mental toughness, emotional intelligence, and leadership when others experience stress. I had my first anxiety attack earlier this week, and, for a moment, it crashed my entire worldview.

For awhile, I resisted it, throwing away everything I’ve learned and taught others about dealing with stress, overcoming adversity, and accepting reality. It shook me to my core, crumpling up my identity like a discarded joke premise and throwing it into a California wildfire, then dousing it with hundreds of gallons of water, and backing over the ashes with a big rig. After all of these years of preaching to “Accept the present moment,” “Look for the opportunity,” and “What can I you with what you know?” I became someone who was saying, “You’re a piece of shit,” “You’re not worth it,” and “Everyone should feel bad for me.”

Talk about a 180.

After a few days of reaching out to people around me – my family, my girlfriend, and my roommates – I came to the realization that this was a test to challenge the mettle of the identity I had created for myself over the years. And now, sitting in a crowded coffee shop as the aroma of chai lattes and the sounds of ambient music fill the air, I realize that now I have a chance to create a connection with those struggling to connect with others experiencing difficulties – whether they’re colleagues, friends, or family. All it took was a fresh perspective, and that’s what I hope to share with you through the 5 things you can do when someone you know is suffering from anxiety.

1. Communicate That You’re There To Support Them By Listening

This can be as simple as a comforting hand on their shoulder, eye contact, or a smile. It can be verbal reassurance that you’re willing to take the time to simply be in the room. It can be in the form of a card, a voicemail, or an invitation to lunch to just hear their side of the story without any judgment. Sometimes just offering an ear can help them verbalize what they’re going through in a way that helps them discover the light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Don’t Give Advice Unless They Ask For It

The last thing you want to do is to tell a person going through a bout with anxiety what they should do. Sure, what you’re saying may make objective sense, but someone going through anxiety’s fight-or-flight response cannot see the full picture, no matter how sensible you are. It’s not that they don’t want to feel better – they do (duh) – but if they’re not ready, you’re only going to contribute to the anxiety. Giving advice will make them resist what you’re saying through argument (fight) or simply shut off to you and turn elsewhere (flight). Or they’ll just punch you and run away (fight-AND-flight). Unless they explicitly ask for your help, simply being there is the best action you can take.

3. Share Your Experience

Be real. Share the most gut wrenching story from your life; was there a time you faced crippling anxiety? Depression? Even suicidal thoughts? The moment that began shaking me were hearing from my dad – one of my role models – share how he couldn’t sleep for days at a time, had lingering pains in his chest, and cold sweats while he struggled to raise a young family amidst unemployment and a bad economy. Then, a good friend reached out to me about how he contemplated suicide amidst the worst anxiety attack in his life. Finally, my roommate – whom I’ve known for all of two months – opened up about his bouts with anxiety. Sharing that you’ve experienced the same symptoms, but have a different story offers a fresh perspective that can shake the sufferer out of their current tunnel vision. Notice how none of this involves giving advice.

4. Offer Perspective

Whatever they’re going through, there’s someone, somewhere who has had it worse and overcome it. When someone is experiencing extreme anxiety, all they’re thinking about is how bad they have it in that moment, and it’s incredibly difficult to shake this perspective. Telling a story about someone you know, someone you’ve heard of, or even sharing a humorous anecdote can provide a jolt of, “It could be worse.” The other night, I was wandering aimlessly through the grocery store on the phone with a buddy of mine. As I tried to pick out the Holy Grail of avocados (why are they only ripe for seven minutes!?), he put the image of living in the Middle Ages through the bubonic plague in my head. As stupid as it seems, it made me feel silly for thinking my problems were so bad and shook me out of my funk for the time being. Oh, and I found the perfect avocado.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

When they ask for your help, it may seem natural to simply tell them what to do next, but that’s not what they really want. They just want to know how to break out of their funk, but doing it in a way specific to them, and the best way to point them in that direction is to ask them open-ended questions that will help them find their own answers (no closed-ended questions that lead to yes or no answers). The goal is to help them discover answers that make them feel better about themselves, reframing the situation so they can find a path up, and asking them what actions they can take to get there. In doing this, I was able to see that the anxiety I was feeling was all self-inflicted, that I’ve overcome every roadblock ever put in front of me, and that I have growth opportunities all around me. Now, I have an action plan in place to grow myself, discover new things, and use this experience to help others. That’s why I’m posting this now – I was in the middle of reaching out to secure new speaking gigs when inspiration struck from a question my dad asked me: “What are some things you can do now?” If I can leverage my experience to offer ideas to people who are dealing with others with anxiety (or dealing with anxiety themselves), I have to take the opportunity to do so.

Without others lending a hug, empathy, perspective, and asking perspective-expanding questions, I’d be in a much worse place right now. If you know someone going through anxiety, reach out, and at the very least, let them know you’re there and just listen.

Who knows? You may be saving a life.

We’re All Irrational. Here’s Why (And How We Can Fix It):

Humans believe they are rational, when in reality, we act based off of our emotions and then rationalize our actions in hindsight.

Then we claim we’re rational.

We don’t like to “look bad” in front of other people, so we rationalize our behavior when we act in a way that may go against our beliefs, when we belittle another person, or when we get into trouble.

“I fell behind at work because my girlfriend is stressing me out.”

“I was speeding because everyone else was speeding. Besides, the police are preying on people to meet quotas. I’M THE REAL VICTIM HERE!”

“That audience wasn’t there to think, which is why they didn’t laugh. No wonder no one is happy at work, they’re all stuck in the old way of thinking.”

We’ve all looked back at something and thought along the lines of “It couldn’t have been me” or “Something else has to be at work here,” when really, we don’t want to admit that we’ve allowed our emotions to overtake us, and that’s why we acted how we did.

That’s okay! It’s human nature.

It has been wired into our brains since animals have had brains in the first place.

Fight or flight was vital for our survival, but now that we live in safe and abundant environments, our brains have kept this old technology and there’s a disconnect between our emotions and cognitive thought.

The rationalization of emotion-based irrational behavior does three things:

  1. Makes us veer toward ideas that soothe our ego
  2. Makes us look for evidence that confirms what we already want to believe
  3. Makes us see what we want to see, depending on our mood

IT MADE SENSE FOR ME TO PUNCH THAT WALL, WALK OUT OF MY JOB, AND GET IN AN ARGUMENT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT ALL WITHIN 5 MINUTES.

The key to avoid giving into the emotions that lead to doing things we regret is to take a moment and ask ourselves the question “What is objectively true?” Answer with no emotional keywords and no rationalization, just objective facts.

I had a recent presentation not go well, and at first, I rationalized why it didn’t seem to have the impact I wanted. For instance, the audience had just sat down with their lunches the moment I was getting introduced, so it was hard to connect with them since most of their focus was on their food. All of the participation bits and my jokes fell flat because of this… at least that’s what I told myself. Then I watched video of the presentation and realized that the story I was telling myself soothed my ego, was focused on evidence that confirmed my beliefs, and made me see what I wanted to see. None of this helped me other than making me feel temporarily better. However, here are the facts:

  • I gave a presentation in front of an audience of 100.
  • It was my first time giving this particular presentation.
  • I had been up until 3 AM the night before, making changes.
  • I only ran through the presentation once before actually giving it.
  • The audience didn’t laugh at my jokes or give me energy.
  • I stumbled over middle parts of my presentation, had to refer to my notes multiple times, and forgot some important points
  • The feedback I received reflected these objective facts

Allowing my emotions to dictate my perspective to make me feel better about myself made it impossible to do anything about what had happened. But looking at those objective facts showed me a clear course of action in order to continue to grow as a speaker.

With this knowledge, I gave the same presentation a month ago and have received positive feedback and inquiries about follow-up speaking gigs.

All because I chose to take a step back, admit my irrationality, and look at things as objectively as possible, I improved my long-term situation. We can use our emotions as a tool to ask ourselves “What else could be true?” and “What can I do about it?” That’s how we can bridge the gap between our lizard brain and cognitive thought.

What are the objective facts of a situation in your life that didn’t go your way? How are you rationalizing what happened? What can you do about the new facts you have in front of you?

Micromanaging? That’s SOOOOO Industrial Revolution

When I step outside in my Victorian era tailcoat, vest, and top hat, I tend to get some concerned looks, but it’s when I take a leisurely ride through the park on my comically lopsided penny-farthing that I end up on a lot of Instagram stories. Why?

I look like an idiot.

If my roommates’ parents were to take a steam-powered locomotive from San Francisco to visit Cleveland, I’d be perplexed. Doing that instead of taking a plane would be like Frodo taking the One Ring to Mordor on foot… rather than just using GIANT EAGLES. Seriously – Gandalf had giant freaking eagles at his disposal. The quest to save Middle Earth from destruction could’ve been over in days!!! Why would you take such an outdated, antiquated method of transportation when there are GIANTE FREAKING EAGLES called AIRPLANES!? You could even take Amtrak, make a stop at every single goddamned town, and still be more efficient in your travel.

It doesn’t make sense to rely on 19th century practices when there are so many better ways to do things, does it? So why do many of today’s creatively stifling management practices run on 19thcentury thinking?

With the dawn of factory work, companies relied on measurement and monitoring in order to control thousands of workers. According to the book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, managers created policies that stifled employees’ natural desires to explore and try new things so that they would focus on narrow tasks. This system was crucial to production and reliability, but it hampered self-expression, the ability to experiment and learn, and withered away their connection to the final product, thus eliminating meaning and engagement from work.

Now, we live in a world that’s evolving at an unprecedented rate where thinking outside of the box, taking risks, and innovation are key qualities that employees need… but the old industrial management practices are still entrenched in most workplaces.

Employees are unable to leverage their unique skills. They’re shoehorned into a system that creates stress, fear, and encourages office politics so that there are constant missed opportunities for collaboration, breakdowns in communication, and a rampant lack of meaning.

The Industrial Revolution discovered new ways to innovate technology so that people could work more efficiently, but if factories were still relying on the same machinery from 150 years ago, they’d actually be hurting their efficiency.

Most workplaces are still relying on the same management practices from 150 years ago, yet little effort has been made to change this entrenched system. Time continues to pass and we’re heading into a new, automation revolution. IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE!

There are workplaces out there that engage their people in ways that gives them the freedom to explore, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. This makes their teams much more innovative and their people much more fulfilled by their work, thus creating the production that Victorian era managers were looking for without the sacrifices to their employees’ humanity. These workplaces, however, are few and far between…

If advancing our technology allowed mankind to take such a giant leap forward during the Industrial Revolution, imagine how big of a leap mankind would take by advancing how we treat other people – you know, the ones who use and innovate the technology. Giving humans the opportunity to take advantage of the biological need to explore our creativity at work is our GIANT FREAKING EAGLE; let’s work together and USE IT!

Think About It:

Do you work better when you’re free to be creative or when you’re micromanaged and every part of your work is monitored?

Think of a time you were able to think outside of the box on a project: how did it engage you? How did it make you feel? Were you able to come up with solution ideas more quickly?

If you’re a leader, how can you communicate to your people that it’s okay to stretch themselves creatively and take risks? If you had just a little more creative freedom with your work, what would you do differently?

How can you spread this shift in workplace thinking at your job?

Follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook

Check out my website

Contact me personally

Conduct Your Life With Exuberance

Imagine being 80 years old with more energy and life than you had in your 40s, 30s, and even your 20s…

Seem impossible? Meet Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, who will have you second-guessing your perception of age and energy from the moment you meet him. At the end of April, I will be hosting the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s annual charity gala, and one of the auction prizes is a visit to Zander’s home in Cambridge, a trip up the Charles River in his pontoon boat, and VIP treatment at a Boston Philharmonic concert. Since I was already in Boston to perform comedy, I decided to reach out to see if I could arrange a meeting.

The moment he swung open his front door, I knew I was in for a treat: “THERE YOU ARE!” he exclaimed in his sing-song British accent, arms joyously in the air as he wrapped me in a warm embrace. It was as though he was reuniting with a long-lost friend, and I went from being nervous to meet the world-renowned conductor, to feeling like we had known each other for years.

As we spoke with one another, his eyes sparkled, reminiscent of Sir Ian McKellen’s as Gandalf at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and he smiled from ear-to-ear and nodded along as he listened to me talk about why I’m passionate about bringing more laughter to the world. Unsurprisingly, he shared my value of humor as he spoke about the fun he and his musicians have during orchestra rehearsals.

“Having fun at rehearsals is so important, even though the symphony is supposed to be serious,” he shared. “The world is much better off with more laughter.”

Though I only spent about ten minutes with the incredibly busy conductor, it felt as though time stood still, and we connected on much a deeper level. The zeal with which he approaches others is evident in his TED Talk, which I HIGHLY recommend watching – even if you’re not into classical music – because his message transcends music:

“I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple – it’s not about wealth, fame, and power – it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me… It really makes a difference what we say – the words that come out of our mouth.”

He goes on to quote an Auschwitz survivor:

“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.” 

When I reach 80, I can only hope to have half of the spirit that Zander has, but he left me with powerful questions to ask myself: do you leave people with shining eyes? Are they happier and filled with more energy that they were when you met them? How can you leave every interaction inspiring others to live with energy and exuberance?

Ask yourself these questions every day and find that life becomes a little happier, more exciting, and  more fulfilling.

Check out Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion#t-1197578

Check out The Art of Possibility, the transformative book he wrote with his wife: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Possibility-Transforming-Professional-Personal/dp/0142001104/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+art+of+possibility&qid=1555090828&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Humor and Grief: Putting the ‘FUN’ in Funerals

When a close relative of yours gets murdered, it shakes the foundation of your existence; it can send you on a downward spiral of depression, dependency, and regret. One of the toughest moments of my life was learning of the passing of my aunt, Kristie, at the hands of her own daughter – my cousin Taylor. I was lying in bed around 7 AM after a late night of shock and questioning reality – we had already known Kristie had been killed, but when we went to bed, we didn’t know the culprit – when my dad burst into my room with hate in his voice, declaring, “Taylor did it.”

My first thought was, “Christmas is going to be awkward this year.” I stopped myself from laughing: “This isn’t the time to make jokes.” The next few weeks were miserable – every day we learned more and more gruesome details about the murder. If you were to drive by our house, it would’ve been the one with the black cloud hovering above it. You always hear people say things like, “That kind of stuff happens on the news, it doesn’t happen to us,” so none of us really knew how to cope. We spend a lot of time together, consoling and comforting one another. In college at the time, I confronted my vulnerability by skipping two straight weeks of class – the only percentage I got was the .09 I blew into a breathalyzer. Needless to say, none of the family could find a way out of the black hole we were stuck in… until the funeral. That’s when I finally gave in to the humor of the whole situation.

During the eulogy, the minister said, “This is a celebration of life!” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “celebration,” I think “party,” and not one person was partying. Besides, if you were to invite me to a party, then inform me it’s at a church, everyone would be crying, and the DJ would be bagpipes, I’d politely decline. And one more thing: he called it a “celebration of life…” with a dead body in the middle of the room – you couldn’t get more contradictory. That’s like having an open bar at a sobriety party. I had to laugh – and the moment I did, it was like a weight was lifted off of my chest. I began to notice even more incongruities: the first three letters in ‘funeral’ are ‘F-U-N,’ Kristie found joy in the happiness of others and, ironically enough, EVERYONE THERE WAS CRYING, and a stranger no one there had ever met sobbed uncontrollably into the microphone for five minutes, blubbering on about how he wished more people had known Kristie, while we wondered who the hell knew who that guy was.

In the face of tragedy was the moment I realized the power laughter has over our fears, stress, and sadness. But it shouldn’t come as such a shock: science has known this for some time now

A study from the University of Berkeley, bereaved widows and widowers able to laugh about their loss were observed to be happier, better equipped to deal with distress, and better socially adapted.

A study done at Kent State and reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care revealed that humor was present in 85 percent of 132 observed nurse based visits. Amazingly, they found that 70 percent of the humor was initiated by the patient.

Humor provides us with relief, not by washing away bad feelings, but by activating them, along with positive ones, so that we can enjoy a complex emotional experience. Tragic circumstances are an effective breeding ground for humor because they provide the same release as horror movies, allowing the participants to confront their emotions head-on.       –Scott Weems (author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why)

How have you used humor in the face of tragedy? How have you helped others experiencing tragedy, trauma, or even just a bad day smile?

Each of us has had a “Christmas is going to be awkward this year,” lean into it and let yourself laugh.

 

Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

Vote for the Person, Not the Party

“You have to vote Republican, David.”
“How could you vote for any Republicans?”

These were two messages I’ve received this week from two people I care deeply about when politics came up in our conversations. Neither of them could understand why I wasn’t voting along party lines – something I used to do when I first started voting. Through extensive research and experience, I’ve learned that my beliefs do not adhere to strict party lines. My ideologies lie within both parties because they are founded on basic tenets of human behavior, not politics. When I chose to major in political science, I thought I wanted to eventually run for office in order to make the world a better place, but what I really learned was that politics was about winning, not making others better.
This shook my foundation, and I realized that to make the world a better place, we must work together to promote ideologies beyond politics – ideologies that are human.

These are the ideologies that will make people, and the world as a whole, a better place. However, political affiliation has clouded our vision, and we get into arguments over who is right and who is wrong, completely ignoring the fact that we both want to live in the same world. Every human being, regardless of ideology wants to live a life of happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement, but each of us has our own methodology and beliefs of how to create this life. Focusing on this, rather than what we want, is what divides us, and the current political climate and constant onslaught of propaganda is widening that division.

I’m not writing this to change your mind or to tell you who to vote for, I’m writing this to inform you of the human qualities that have and will create a world, country, and community filled with happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement. Ask yourself, not if the person you’re voting for is Republican or Democrat, but if they exhibit the following, which transcend political ideology:

· Vision: Is there a goal? Is their focus on creating a world of the above qualities? Or are they focused on simply defeating the opponent?
· Openness: Do they consider the perspectives and well-being of others who are unlike them? Or do they belittle and ignore these perspectives because it doesn’t fit their ideology? Do they surround themselves with the best people or do they foster a culture of groupthink by surrounding themselves with yes-men and ass-kissers?
· Accountability: Do they have a history of owning their mistakes and shortcomings? Or do they place blame on others, events, and the political climate?
· Growth: When they make mistakes, do they consistently take new actions that prove that they’ve learned? Or do they continually make the same mistakes over and over?
· Innovation: Do they have new ideas and take risks with an eye toward making the world a better place? Or do they stick to the safe confines of the status quo, so as not to rock the boat?
· Optimism: When confronted with a problem, do they see it as a challenge to learn to be better? Do they see it as a necessary part of making the world a better place? Or do they see it as an obstacle that should be eliminated?
· Leadership: Are they focused on making other people better, inspiring a culture of trust and togetherness, taking ownership of defeats, and giving credit to others in the face of victory? Or are they more concerned with boosting themselves, spreading a culture of division and mistrust, spreading blame in the face of defeat, and taking credit for victories?
· Service: Is their focus on building up other people and inspiring the importance of better service and being able to serve more people? Or are they concerned with building a bigger name for themselves and spreading the emphasis of making more money over serving others?
· Connection: Are they willing to bridge the gap with others who are resistant to them and overcome differences through a focus on common goals? Do they see the individual behind political affiliation, gender, race, religion, and economic standing? Do they see other people for their potential? Do they encourage others to unite when their differences come into play? Or are they resistant to differences, focusing on what they don’t have in common with others? Do they see other people as stereotypes instead of as individuals? Do they see people for their problems and shortcomings? Do they set people against one another?
· Integrity: Do they have a history of following through with promises and owning up when they are unable to? Or do they avoid questions, skirting blame in order to take less of a hit on their character?
· Honesty: Do they tell the truth and create a culture of trust founded on reality? Or do they try to make themselves seem bigger and better, creating a culture of mistrust not founded on reality?

I am not voting for a political party this election, I’m voting for the human qualities in which I believe. If you want to create a better world, I strongly encourage you to do the same. Sure, each candidate is flawed, but if we focus on these flaws, it will be incredibly difficult to create the world we all want. Take the time to learn about each candidate, and vote for whichever person exhibits the above qualities, but also remember to exhibit these qualities in your everyday life too. Don’t leave it up to the politicians to create a better world when you have the power to make your own world better and inspire those around you to do the same.

People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

After a pretty rough week in terms of current events last week, wouldn’t it be nice to have full confidence and trust in other people to help make the world a better place?

Lately, there seems to be a growing distrust of others, especially those who are unlike us, and that’s not a world I’m comfortable living in, because it goes against our human nature.
Here’s the thing: all people are born good, so it’s our natural state of being.
The fact that we’re all inherently good is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain: we’ve come together as a species to build a system of trust and a society, and the only way we could conceivably do this is by working together. Humans are better when we have strong social ties, since teamwork is the evolutionary trait that has allowed us to rule the planet.
The way I’ve been seeing people treat one another is getting away from that and it worries me.

Once we’re born, our culture, loved ones, and education condition us and we start to lose our innate tendency to help others in lieu of developing behaviors centered around how right and righteous we are, while proving wrong those who don’t believe and act the same as us.
I want to live in a world where we focus on helping each other build better people and communities, but that’s tough to do when we’re distracted by the forces dividing us.

How do we build that world?
What if learning to work together was a part of our childhood conditioning?
I don’t mean sharing blocks and not pulling each other’s hair in preschool, I mean learning how to come together, no matter our backgrounds or if we even agree with one another, and fix problems with a focus on how each of us can help.
What if school curriculum was centered around learning about one another, learning how to communicate and have empathy, and learning how to best combine our backgrounds, skills, and knowledge to create something? What if, instead of ranking students based off of scores representing their own individual knowledge, we develop a system where the goal is for students to come together to make each other better in pursuit of a goal, say a class project, a community service, or just helping one another score better? If this was part of our upbringing – how we were conditioned – how would we, as adults, behave differently when we come across someone who isn’t like us? Would we be resistant and fearful, or excited and hopeful?
If we’re conditioned to want to help each other be better, how different would the news look? Would they be focused on human progress or the events tearing us apart?

The world I want to live in is one where people come together to understand one another so that we can learn to build better communities.
My question to you: how can you help make this world a reality?

Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.

Rejection is Feedback and Feedback is an Opportunity

“[We are] going to rescind our request to have you speak to [us].”
I stared blankly at the text of the email, mouth agape.
“This has never happened to me,” I thought aloud. “What did I do?”
I kept reading.
“Eight members of our chapter were in attendance and all were offended by your presentation,” the email continued.
“Offended? I was trying to make you laugh!” My fight-or-flight response had kicked in, but before I found myself going off on a tangent, I decided to continue reading to learn more.
“Specifically, you told a ‘dick’ joke.”
Ah… that’s fair. Using my character, Perspective Detective Dick Ransom’s first name strategically for laughs is admittedly juvenile, but it’s something that people remember. The premise of the bit is based around the fact that when we blame the circumstances or other people when we fall short of our goals, so we should “become a Dick” because “we all have a little Dick inside of us.”

Later in the email, he writes “I won’t comment on the rest of your presentation.” This is what hurt me most, not because they didn’t enjoy my presentation, but because once the Dick joke was on the table, they missed out on the message of the rest of the presentation.

That’s on me.

My talks aren’t your standard HR presentation because the current business climate is mired in complacency, so I take some risks – some pay off and some don’t, which I live with. The key, though is to analyze where I am and ask, “Is where I am better than where I was before this?” To get a more accurate answer, it’s vital to consider all feedback from other perspectives. I only have one way of looking at my reality – my own – so I admittedly have a bit of a bias. However, when other people say to me, “We were offended by your presentation,” that’s a sign that, instead of resisting their POV and getting hostile, I have an opportunity to consider another perspective.

I can’t possibly follow through on all feedback given to me, but I can at least listen, appreciate the fact that someone is willing to take a risk to even give me the feedback, and consider what to do next. My aim is to always improve in some way after every presentation I give, and in order to do that, it’s important to listen. This is as true for me as it is for all of you – even if no one approaches you and says, “Hey, here’s my feedback,” if you listen to the world around you by
-evaluating where you are vs. where you want to be
-paying close attention to the nonverbal clues of others
-considering the perspectives of those who do offer explicit feedback
you’ll learn more than you ever would simply looking through your own eyes.

Though another group approached me after the presentation about speaking at one of their upcoming meetings because they enjoyed the presentation and felt motivated (proof that multiple people can see the exact same thing but get something completely different out of it), my aim is to leave everyone feeling better when they see one of my talks. I don’t expect everyone to leap out of their seats and change the world when they leave, but at the very least, I want people to have laughed and felt good. To have not been able to do that for one group leaves me in a state of self-examination where I realize that “I too have a little Detective Dick in me,” now it’s up to me to figure out how I can do better next time, and it’s all thanks to feedback.

“Rejection is just feedback designed to show you how to be better.”